Special thanks to Prodigy Keyblade Wielder for being my Beta!

Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach. It belongs to Kubo Tite or the lucky bastard that produces it.

Spoiler Warning: This is an AU-ish, Hitsugaya-centric work based off the 'what if Hinamori Momo died rather than recovered after being attacked by Aizen Sousuke during the Soul Society arc'. Spoilers for everything up until the latest manga chapter, since I will try my best to incorporate all canon ideas that do not directly contradict the first premise of the story. I derived the storyline canon from the manga - I also incorporated additional information from the anime as long as it did not contradict the manga or the AU premise accordingly.

Author's Note: This is the rewritten version of Unending Storm's first chapter, and the entire storyline has undergone a massive change in plot and in structure. Hence, if you read the previous Chapter I before 19 January 2007, then I highly suggest that you read this Chapter I as well to bring yourself up to date.

Pairing(s): Hitsugaya Centric; Hitsugaya Toushirou X Hinamori Momo, possibly one-sided HitsuMatsu.

Unending Storm

Chapter I: Heart of Ice

Well, I don't really think about it anymore, I guess. Just do everything you feel like doing and keep breathing. There's always someone worse off, isn't there?

-Matsumoto Rangiku, 10th Division Vice-Captain


Matsumoto Rangiku did not shirk her paperwork. She was, after all, a respectable Vice-Captain in every way. Except the indecent state of her uniform. And her unbreakable habit of drinking sake. And also her constant evasion of all responsibility for her aforementioned quirks. But nevertheless, Rangiku maintained that it wasn't that she didn't want to do paperwork – it was that she found that she could be much more 'productive' doing other things.

But, at the moment, her productivity had ground to a halt. Matsumoto felt her patience fraying rapidly as she twisted the tip of her writing brush to vent her frustrations. If Taichou wasn't back in the next five minutes, she was blowing this place, and he could figure out what to do with all these unanswered forms in the morning. She felt herself growling in frustration and tried to concentrate on the taunting papers in front of her.

Her most inconsiderate Taichou had been acting strange all morning, finally leaving the office for a stroll while she was forced to stay inside and finish both their shares of paperwork. Papers, papers, papers. Somehow, Rangiku always felt it was a little ridiculous for them to be signing papers right now, when Aizen was on the move and war was imminent. Already, three months had passed, and if nothing changed, well, she didn't want to think of what was going to happen.

An ominous roll of thunder boomed outside, and Matsumoto heard the continuous splashes of rainfall spilling from the cloudy skies. She looked up and frowned. Taichou was definitely the only one who would go for a walk in this type of weather. It had been pouring nonstop for the past hour, and Matsumoto felt wet just looking at the downpour outside.

But wet was still better than paperwork.

Then she heard a soft clack at the windowsill. Looking up, the Tenth Division Vice-Captain made out the outline of a Hell Butterfly bumping determinedly at the window, unable to get inside. Her heart went out to it – the poor creature must have had a hell of a time trying to fly here in the rain. She let it inside, and the battered butterfly landed haphazardly on her extended finger, rattling its fragile wings to rid itself of the unwanted moisture.

'Captain Hitsugaya Toushirou, please report to the Fourth Division immediately. Urgent. Unohana Retsu.'

Matsumoto couldn't help but feel a grin spread across her face. In all rationality, since Taichou wasn't in the office, so it was perfectly natural for his oh-so-trustworthy Vice-Captain to run the errand for him.

Bingo. Now she had a perfect excuse to get away from the office, and even Taichou wouldn't be able to blame her for doing so. It was, after all "urgent." Rangiku thanked Unohana-taichou silently in her head.

She promptly switched off her desk light, let the Hell Butterfly wander where it would – it should be able to find the hell butterfly cages on its own – and dug her battered umbrella out of her desk drawer. She hummed a little tune to herself and sashayed out the door, wondering why Unohana would be summoning Taichou so urgently to the Fourth Division. Probably some recruit had been injured or, Matsumoto stifled a chuckle, their medicine refrigeration facilities had broken down again, as they often seemed to.

Probably the former though – the thought sobered Matsumoto a little. After Aizen had left the Soul Society, every able-bodied Death God was undergoing grueling training sessions to prepare for a potentially long and grueling war. The most recent events had shaken Soul Society terribly, especially since nothing of this caliber had EVER happened in all of its documented history. People came and went with dizzying speeds, and no one seemed to be where they were before.

Matsumoto felt a stab of pain shoot through her chest. It had been over three months since she last saw Gin. But she immediately shook her head vigorously.

Must not let mind wander off track.

With the new finality, Matsumoto Rangiku locked the Division office behind her, opened up her umbrella, and stepped into the unending storm outside.


A considerably wetter and colder Matsumoto stood at the Fourth Division office door, dripping rainwater onto the clean, linoleum tiles. The umbrella hadn't put up much of a fight against the rain, and she had been soaked to the skin long before she arrived. Still, Matsumoto still believed that being wet was better than paperwork, and a little bit of rain never hurt anyone. She shook the water off one hand and rapped the door smartly, waiting for Unohana to let her in.

She did not have to wait long. Unohana opened the door immediately, and Matsumoto watched a thin eyebrow rise slightly in surprise. Clearly, Unohana had expected Taichou, not her. The glance was gone in a moment though, washed over by Unohana's typical serene smile, but Matsumoto had caught a good enough look at it to offer her hasty explanations.

"Taichou went for a walk when your message came, and I had no idea where he was. It was 'urgent', so I came instead." The Vice-Captain explained sheepishly. "I hope it's not a problem."

Unohana paused for a moment, and then shook her head. "No, though, what I have to say has something to do with Hinamori-chan. I thought he might have preferred being the first to know…but I don't think he'll mind if it's you."

Matsumoto froze on the spot, the half-formed grin disappearing from her face. "Did something happen to Hinamori-chan?" Because if something did, Taichou will never forgive himself.

"I believe…it would be best if we sit down in my office. Follow me."

Unohana led Matsumoto into the impeccable room, and Matsumoto felt guilty for trailing water all over the cleanly swept floors. But she spotted a rack of towels sitting against the wall, and promptly grabbed one to dry herself off with. Trust Unohana-taichou to think of everything.

Once properly seated, Unohana took a deep breath and began.

"Matsumoto-san, I believe you are aware of the condition Hinamori was in, after she lost consciousness."

Matsumoto nodded. "I am."

"Well," Unohana's voice hesitated ever so slightly, "her condition has been steadily worsening over the last month, and became...critical about two hours ago."

The words took a moment to sink in. Matsumoto tried to process what she was hearing. "Then why are we sitting here talking about it?" she asked, slightly confused. If Hinamori-chan's condition was indeed so critical, then Unohana wouldn't be sitting in her office talking about it, would she? "Shouldn't we be helping her?"

Unohana averted her gaze, and in that split second, Matsumoto realized what was bugging her. A horribly nauseous, sinking feeling in her stomach told her that something was wrong. Something was very, very wrong. "Why aren't we…helping her?" Matsumoto asked again, and she realized she could not control the waver of uncertainty in it. Her instincts were screaming, but she would deny them until the last possible second, until they were confirmed. But even before the words had left her mouth, Matsumoto knew.

Unohana's pale, sad expression was clear enough.

"5th Division Vice-Captain Hinamori Momo will not be waking up. She died about an hour ago."


Matsumoto found herself outside in the rain, umbrella left unheeded beside her. For some reason, the rain didn't seem to matter anymore. Hinamori was dead. So simply, just gone. No melodrama, no struggle for life, no grieving friends, or last words. Just simply, gone. For all of their effort and struggles, the girl had left them all behind without a word of goodbye. Almost as if she had died three months ago, the moment Aizen had stabbed her through the heart and shattered her world into dust.

But in all honesty, though Hinamori's death weighed heavily on her heart, her imaginings of Hitsugaya's inevitable reaction to the news weighed more still. She knew better than almost anyone, except, maybe, Unohana, how many long hours Hitsugaya had spent at Hinamori's bedside, coaxing her to come back when he thought no one was watching. And now...Rangiku dreaded telling him the news, dreaded being the one to see what would happen when he found out that the one he had sworn to protect would never see another sunrise.

Unohana's soft words echoed in her head hauntingly. Died about an hour ago. About an hour ago. So Taichou must have felt her die, and sensed the connection between them break in his heart of hearts. And he had gone for a walk in the unending rainstorm, without giving any reason or excuses. Matsumoto finally knew why.

She needed to find Taichou. As horrible as the news she brought was, Taichou deserved to know. Yet, the orange-headed Vice-Captain had no idea where he had gone, and he hadn't been in the office when she checked. Rangiku ran a hand through her wet, cold locks of orange hair.

Where in the world would he go at a time like this?

She brainstormed several places that Hitsugaya often visited. There was the cafeteria, but Taichou only went frequently because he constantly needed to replenish the energy his small frame wasted trying to contain his spiritual pressure. Maybe the training grounds? Taichou occasionally went there when to vent his frustration in peace, or to talk to his zanpakuto undisturbed. Matsumoto thought over it a bit, then sighed; she didn't seem to be coming up with any better ideas, so the training grounds were her best bet.

Matsumoto shook the water from her eyes, gathered her shinigami robes, and began sloshing in the general direction. But before she had gone more than a couple steps, revelation dawned. As clear as her Haineko's name countless years ago.

"Rangiku, you idiot. " She muttered to herself.

The aged and weathered peach tree standing in the Fifth Division gardens, woefully neglected but still blooming gracefully.

Taichou had always met with Hinamori there before, during the times of peace. It was an old, gnarled tree planted long before she had even entered Seireitei, and it had borne silent witness to generation after generation of shinigami. Taichou would be there. Rangiku could feel the certainty of that in her blood, the instinctive feeling all Vice-Captains possessed when it came to their respective Captains.

She took a deep breath and sprinted off into the rain, trusting her instincts to keep her from getting lost.


Sure enough, someone was leaning against at the base of the tree, eyes staring unseeingly into the deafening storm. Matsumoto could faintly make out the pale captain's cloak and silvery-white hair against the obscure blackness of the rain.

Her determined dash skidded suddenly to a halt when Matsumoto realized that she had no idea how to tell him what she knew. She could not feasibly deliver the news gently, and even if she could, Matsumoto had a sinking feeling that, in a way, he already knew. When she had finally meandered close enough to see him…

She froze. Matsumoto didn't know what exactly she had been expecting, but not this. Never this.

Taichou's eyes. As far as Rangiku could recall, her captain's icy-blue-green eyes had always been alive, glinting with a layer of icy resolve, sparkling with amusement, piercingly glaring, radiating anger, or stonily determined. They lived and they sparked. But now…now they were so terribly, terribly blank.

And the raindrops that rolled down his face glossed over them, pooling beneath them unheeded, and following the path that tears would have tread down to his chin. Had she not known better, Matsumoto would have sworn they were tears. But she did know better.

Hitsugaya did not cry – he had forced himself to forget how a long time ago.

When she reached his side, she found herself unable to speak, only standing in silence and waiting, waiting for some kind of acknowledgment or recognition. An eternity filled with nothing but the deafening silence of pouring rain passed, and Hitsugaya did not stir from his place. So Matsumoto waited silently, until he finally spoke.

"What are you trying to say?" Hitsugaya's tone was flat and lifeless, devoid even of the coldness that usually lurked there.

Matsumoto would not, could not, answer. She merely sat there dumbly, watching her captain stare ahead into nothingness. He looked so vulnerable like that, reminding her of his actual age. But his coldness and genius kept everyone else at bay, hiding his weaknesses and needs under a mask of ice. Matsumoto chanced a look at Hitsugaya.

And without the icy glint in his eyes, the isolation of his rank, and the poise in his stance, he suddenly looked awfully young to Matsumoto. Almost heart-breakingly young.

"I asked a question, Matsumoto." His voice was the same. The Vice-Captain lowered her head and whispered, for once.

"Taichou…Hinamori…is..." But Matsumoto could not look him in the eye and finish her sentence – a glance at his expression told her that he already knew.

Dead.

Another eternity full of rain and silence slipped by. Then Hitsugaya spoke once more.

"Leave."

She did not move. She couldn't leave him alone, but it was terrifying to see him like this. Rage, Matsumoto could deal with. Bitterness, frustration, aloofness, denial – she could handle it from him. But not this. His voice was empty, so horribly, horribly empty of anything recognizable to Matsumoto.

Perhaps, it was despair.

"Taichou…"

"That's an order." His voice was deceptively calm again, but his tone had lowered to a threatening growl. Matsumoto still hesitated, weighing her decision. She glanced over at her Captain once more in indecision, before letting her shoulders sag a little, and making a weak attempt at a grin.

He was beyond her help. And even if he wasn't, he wouldn't accept her help in this state. He would not, even in his darkest despair, abandon pride.

Staying here would do no good, leaving would probably do no harm. Hitsugaya…he'd pull through this on his own, whether offered help or no. She had to trust him with at least that. It hurt to see him like this, but Taichou was stronger than this. She honestly believed that.

She had to believe that.

"As you wish, Taichou." With a half-bow, Matsumoto disappeared with shunpo, never once looking back.


Hitsugaya wanted to scream. He wanted to rage. He wanted nothing more than to tear the skies apart, shred reality, and rip through the strands of death that held them apart. He would not let Hinamori go like this. But something inside him wouldn't move and remained flaccidly limp despite all his pent up anger. Even as his vice-captain left him to his own thoughts, the unspoken word between them whispered itself insidiously into his ear, drowning out the storm around him with the storm inside.

Dead.

Every fiber in his being wanted to obliterate the word and erase it from his mind, as if it would somehow bring her back. But his rationality – or what little of it that remained – laughed harshly in his empty heart and repeated the word over and over in his mind. She died. She's dead. She's gone. You failed her.

The rain pounded down onto him, like a numbing judgment for his crime. I failed her. He had been ten seconds too late, and ten decades too young. Aizen had defeated him in an instant and shattered his Ban Kai in a deadly blink of an eye. Hitsugaya had tasted it then – fear and despair. But it was for a mercifully short time, when shock had numbed everything and darkness claimed him before the thoughts could register in his mind properly.

Fear of losing her and the despair of failing her.

Now the fear was gone. There was no fear. What he feared had already happened, he had lost Hinamori Momo forever, and nothing he did now could ever change that. There was no fear. Even if there was, his heart was too full of despair for him to feel it. The despair of knowing that, not only that he had failed her, but she had failed him too. She had failed him more deeply than he had ever dreamed, and brought all of his half-formed hopes crashing to the ground.

He had always hoped that, for all her devotion to Aizen, she would remember him. Somewhere in his heart, he had hoped that he held as large a place in her heart as she held in his. Hitsugaya knew it was childish and he should have known better than to hang onto a childish hope. They had seen each other less and less over the years, until entire months could pass without a word of interaction between them. He knew, then, that she was slipping away from him, and that they were growing farther and farther apart. And he hated it.

But Hitsugaya had done nothing, since he was as guilty as she was in that matter. His pride would not let him seek her out on his own without a legitimate reason, and his reputation had kept him from admitting that he enjoyed her company. He took to protecting her from the shadows, keeping a watchful eye on her without her, or anybody else for that matter, noticing it. Hinamori had never even dreamed how closely she was watched, and how many times she had been saved from death without her even knowing it.

Maybe if he had played his hand differently, Hinamori would never have doubted him. But deep down, he knew her better than that – her devotion to Aizen knew no bounds, and she would do absolutely anything for her Captain...even raising her blade against her best friend.

In the end, he should have known it all along. He simply hadn't accepted it until she had delivered it to him on Tobiume's tip and the edge of her half-formed accusations. Then he had seen with harsh clarity that no matter what he did, Aizen had total control over Hinamori. A single request from her Captain would lead her to fight against even him, and no logic or words could sway her from her task.

He had underestimated how deep the devotion went, and how deeply he had lost her to that traitorous man. He should have known, should have anticipated it, should have braced himself for the inevitable…but logic failed him. It always failed him when it came to her. No, he had clung stubbornly to the last shred of hope, willing her to come back. Perhaps she would remember him, hear his voice, and come back to him. That she could just be his Bed Wetter Momo, and he would be her Shirou-chan.

It was a foolish, childish, stupid hope, and he knew it. But he could seem to let go of it. Letting go of hope meant letting go of her, and Hitsugaya would never willingly let Hinamori leave him. Wherever she had gone, he had followed. As hateful as it was for him to admit it, he needed her, needed her warmth to keep his own ice at bay.

He had once had a heart of ice. A strong, impenetrable heart that loved no one but himself. One that did not beat, did not bleed, and bowed before no other. Never in his wildest dreams had he imagined that a simple smile and a simple act of friendship from a girl he didn't know would melt the ice into a helpless puddle at her feet. To her alone, the dragon would bow its head, even unwillingly.

It was a long, long time ago now.

They had both been far too naïve. Life had been so simple then, and the only concerns were having a place to sleep and enough to eat.

When that fateful letter had arrived, the one that started it all, and Hinamori had left for the Shinigami Academy. So he had followed her, watched over her, protected her from the shadows every step of the way.

She never noticed.

Her admiration was for Aizen and Aizen alone. She loved him with her entire heart – there was no room for anyone else. But she was happy, and Hitsugaya would never, in a thousand lifetimes, think of taking that away from her. He could watch her and protect her without her acknowledgement. For her to keep smiling, keep radiating that warmth and joy that kept his heart beating…it was enough. He took a strange sense of pride in every one of her smiles, knowing that, indirectly, she was smiling because of him.

Then a single phrase shattered his soft current of memories.

"You're Captain Aizen's…murderer!"

The hatefully cold, furious blade of Tobiume pressed against his neck. Its coldness still haunted him, aching more than a thousand cuts deeper and harsher. But even so, it paled before the coldness that surged through him, and the world beneath his feet seemed to crumble away. It was a memory he despised, one that carried a wealth of anger, frustration, confusion, loss, and betrayal…a thousand other emotions that manifested themselves as a bolt of furious lightning across pouring skies.

"Idiot…" He whispered under breath, but this time in a wistful, sad tone, drowned out by the raging tempest around him. Hitsugaya buried his face into his arms.

Hinamori was kindness incarnate, but she could be crueler than she ever imagined or intended. She had told him once, "As long as you try your best, there's nothing to regret."

Liar.

He had thrown every fiber of his being into protecting her, watching over her, comforting her…and he had failed. She was dead because of his failure. The raw truth of it tore his heart from inside him and choked every breath that flitted through his lungs. Regret was an understatement.

He wanted to die. He deserved to die.

For being blind, blind to the illusion Aizen cast before his eyes. The man made Hinamori happy, and Hitsugaya would not interfere with their relationship, no matter how it grated against his nerves. In Hinamori's eyes, Aizen was infinitely more important than he had ever, could ever, or would ever be. She had proved it the moment she raised her blade against him, ready to slay him in honor of her Captain's memory.

And she had just proved it again. Perhaps, the fight for her life was the last choice she made, between giving in to despair and Aizen's will, and coming back to the boy who waited so desperately for her.

She had chosen Aizen.

Hitsugaya had tried her best. He had spared no expense, given her everything that he could in hopes to bring her back. The countless memories of visiting her, holding her cold, limp hand for hours, begging her to come back…pleading with her, showing her the weakness and need for her he hid behind the icy barriers, letting his vulnerability show…Nothing. Nothing he did could ever bring her back from her Captain's side. She turned a deaf ear to all his whispered, desperate calls, and left him behind.

Dead.

The only person he would trade the entire world for to save died, and he could do nothing. Nothing at all.

He had lived for her, always trying to be his best to show her that he could be every bit as powerful and dignified as her idolized Aizen-taichou. Hitsugaya felt the dragon inside his chest coil in cold fury. The traitor. The man that had stolen everything away, and had not cared in the slightest. Hinamori had been nothing more than a pawn in Aizen's eyes, while Aizen had been the world to her. Hitsugaya let out a shuddering, tearless breath. And she had been the world for him, only she never noticed.

She had always been his reason for everything, hadn't she? The reason he had become shinigami in the first place, the reason he had forced himself to become stronger, the reason he had become a Captain. Somehow, it had always been her instigating change in his life, goading him to make the decisions at every crossroad. He had followed her every step of the way, watching her, protecting her from the shadows. And he hadn't even considered walking a different path, or leaving her side. Because…because –

He had fucking loved her.

Hitsugaya froze as revelation registered. One of his hands tightened its grip around the cool scabbard of Hyourinmaru, and the other grasped angrily at the fabric above his heart. Each ragged heartbeat drove the point home. He didn't know when it had happened, and he didn't know how. But Hitsugaya could no more deny it than he could deny Hyourinmaru.

He had loved her, and he had lost her. She had never been his, and never would be – the raw void in his chest would haunt him to the end of his days.

Hitsugaya choked back another strangled cry. He would not break down, he would not cry, he told himself. He would at least maintain that much personal dignity.

But it was increasingly harder as his mind sifted through the memories frantically, reliving them heartbeat by heartbeat, whether they were painful or not. If there was something, anything he could have done to save her. But he knew there wasn't, and it wouldn't matter if there was. Hinamori had died, and Aizen had killed her. The knowledge of that chained him, choked him more than anything else possibly could.

She had died, he had loved her, and Aizen had killed her.

Aizen had crushed her innocent spirit, with more finality than any physical wound could ever inflict. The dragon inside Hitsugaya's chest roared in outrage.

Aizen would die. Hitsugaya swore it on the very despair that gripped him now. The man would die a death of ice for what he had done. A blast of furious chill lashed out from the young prodigy unnoticed, and the raindrops falling around him shattered into ice.

Aizen would die, he swore, and until that happened, he would remember every detail of the man's transgressions. Until every last one was paid for, not a single one would be overlooked.

It didn't matter how badly it heart, how deep the agony struck. He would keep breathing, if it meant keeping her memory alive for only one more day. The despair was rapidly dissipating, and another emotion was raging to the fore.

End it. This storm of chaos, of doubt, of loss. This unending storm.

How much more would Aizen take away before he stopped?

Hitsugaya's head snapped up, and suddenly, each angry raindrop that splashed coldly on his face fueled his resolve. Hinamori was dead. Nothing he did would bring her back. But he would remember, remember, and never forget. Always, he would remember every painful detail and the raw agony, the things that could have been and those that could never be again. To remember. He could not afford to despair now.

Aizen would fall. The storm will end.

I will end it.

Hitsugaya held his zanpakutou up to face him, and worked his cold fingers around the familiar hilt. It quivered under his fingers, and Hitsugaya angled his face upwards to stare up into the falling, angry raindrops.

End the storm.

The sound of sliding steel cut through the monotonous murmur of the downpour. Hitsugaya closed his eyes for a long time and was silent.

Then he opened them again, slowly, the icy blue green orbs flashing coldly in the rain. Unclouded and disillusioned, they shone with passionless ice. The dragon was mirrored in them again was unfettered by despair and now roaring with cold fury.

Aizen could try to break him. The man could take away everything that he had ever cared about, and try to break him in every way. Let him try.

Momo had died - there was nothing keeping him from freezing again. The fire had faded away, the ice would take over. He was the ice, and ice was numb to all pain. Time could not touch anything that ice sought to protect. He would remember.

Break the chains.

He was the dragon. He had wings. He was a creature of the sky, of the ice. A dragon was not so easily tamed, not so easily defeated.

Hitsugaya let the ice sweep him away.

Soar.

"Souten…ni zase…Hyourinmaru."

And Seireitei thundered at the sound of the dragon's roar.


Matsumoto's ears were ringing with the dragon's roar as she had witnessed the stormy sky burst spectacularly into a furious blizzard. And as quickly as it had come, the ice disappeared, whirling the dark clouds away with it. The shocking clear sky had startled her – a definite improvement compared to the oppressive, depressing rain. And Yamamoto had wisely decided to say nothing about the unauthorized shikai release.

The roar had nearly deafened her, the familiar spiritual pressure had frozen her in her tracks, and every hair on her neck had stood on end. She had had no idea what she was feeling, or why she had reacted the way she did, but Matsumoto had felt like screaming right along. Something far, far beyond rational throught, deeply embedded into her instincts. The sound had just been flooding with so much desperation, frustration, anger, and defiance most of all. More profound than any words could have been, a vow to fight, to resist, to struggle until the very last.

Aizen would pay.

The next morning, Matsumoto had only caught a brief glimpse of her captain before Hinamori Momo's funeral began. His eyes had narrowed, far colder than she remembered them to be. He conducted himself with composure, and his voice was rife with all its characteristic chill and determination again.

'Matsumoto. Take care of the Division while I'm gone.'

She had asked where he was going, for how long, and why.

He had answered that it would depend.

'There are some things I need to take care of. Alone.'

She had respected his wishes. She did not ask, and turned a blind eye during the funeral procession. Izuru was choking back sobs, Abarai was standing in stony silence, and she had found her own heart aching terribly. Even Unohana had looked away. But Hitsugaya had been almost…detached, watching the procession with an unreadable expression in his eyes. Something had changed; he had not as much as blinked during the funeral. And when asked to deliver a eulogy, he had declined.

'I have nothing more to say.'

Even when there were so many unspoken words hanging in the air.

And he had stayed for a word with Unohana, after the funeral, and before they had buried her coffin. Matsumoto had not asked, and did not question when he didn't come back to the Division office. She did not ask about it when he returned, almost two entire days later. Matsumoto had only taken a brief glance at his torn clothes, at the gashes and dirt all over him, and at his obvious reiatsu depletion. Matsumoto had wondered, but despite her curiosity, she had still sent him to the Fourth Division immediately.

They never mentioned it again. Ever since that day, it seemed that Hitsugaya had completely returned to normal, as if nothing had ever happened. He started scowling and scolding her again. To everyone else, the Hitsugaya Toushirou of the old had returned.

But Matsumoto knew better. Before, Taichou had a spark of life and something he had to protect at all costs. Now, the spark of life was gone and his eyes were hard – he was a child who had grown up far to fast and reached a crossroad, where both paths led into darkness.

And he had sealed his heart away.

But she didn't give up hope. As long as he kept his heart of ice from turning into a heart of stone, there was hope.

Ice could melt.


Rewritten on January 19, 2007.

I hope you enjoyed the first chapter of 'Unending Storm' despite the lack of plot advancement. In case you noticed, my usage of phrases and metaphors used in Jedi Boadicea's 'Frozen Sky' were not intentionally the same - it's just that I have based my characterization of Hitsugaya off 'Frozen Sky', so some references were unavoidable. I apologize belatedly if it offended anyone. Please review, and constructive criticism is more than welcome.

-Karia Ithilai